Many - indeed most - commentators have quickly labelled yesterday's Budget as 'political' by which they mean it was more to do with the forthcoming General Election campaign than with the management of Britain's ailing economy. That seems to me to be a condemnation of any Budget but especially of one delivered at a time of economic crisis.
As a Budget it was a failure. Alistair Darling
stubbornly refused to address the real economic issues of the crushing public sector deficit, the collapse of a banking system capable of supporting business expansion or the broken, dysfunctional housing market to highlight but three from a very long list. He tinkered around the edges of these issues, grabbing a few headlines with his Stamp Duty changes along the way, but did nothing to address the fundamental fault lines that each of these issues has sent through our fractured economy.
If the Chancellor's contribution yesterday was ineffectual to the point of being dishonest about what needs to be done, then the Tories response was even worse. It was utterly devoid of policy.
The Tories make alot of noise about the Government's failure to act on the deficit but never say what they would do. There isn't a significant policy commitment in sight when it comes to Conservative
This is what is so shocking about modern politics: it seems to be populated with people who are frightened of policies. Is it hardly surprising that ordinary people are asking what are politicians for and what is the political process about? The expenses scandal might have eroded confidence and trust in the political system but it is in many ways just a symptom of the problem as it shows that many politicians no longer know themselves what they are there for.
Are we really about to go into a General Election campaign where the two main parties are not capable of saying what they would do about the over-riding economic issue of the day - how to cut the deficit? Every single man and woman in the country knows that it needs to come down, that the cuts will be harsh and that it will be the best part of a decade before we are through the crisis. How this will affect them and their families will uppermost in their minds once the starring gun is fired (later this week?) for the election campaign yet, apart from a worthy attempt by Nick Clegg
and Vince Cable yesterday to stimulate a debate on these issues, nobody seems prepared to face up to the problem and be brave enough to spell out their policies for dealing with it.
It was once called leadership and in the last century we saw some real political leaders who set out their policies and went out into the country to persuade people they were right. They came from across the political spectrum but they were all great leaders in their own way: Lloyd George, Churchill, Atlee, Heath, Thatcher. They weren't frightened of an opinion poll or in thrall to a focus group.